Posts Tagged ‘jam session.’


Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Musicians, fans and others have been voicing their opinions about the recent column that focused on playing for free.

There are those who strongly disagree with the practice and its possible ramifications.

Then there are those who believe that, particularly in the instance I outlined and particularly in the instance of jam sessions, not accepting or asking for compensation for those who run such events is “the best thing that ever happened to jazz.”

Although I’ve been called, on more than one occasion, a “Pompous Pontificator” and more recently, “a windbag,” let the record show that I “ordain” nothing, that I’m open to hearing and seriously considering all points of view, and that I’m more than able and willing to bend and to learn.

The best of our pompous pontificators and windbags are like that.

Those who have no problem with the “no money” issue maintain that a wonderful, educational and most valuable service is being rendered in the jam session setting. The fact is, those who run these sessions are providing a setting for young players to gain invaluable playing experience. And obviously, the young players constitute the future of jazz.

Further, they say, running a jam session is “not really like a job” — in that the whole set-up is informal–and the player or players who run such things aren’t playing an entire night, in that they often yield their chairs to the sitters-in.

I, for one, would hate to see such sessions end for any reason. They are, I agree, our future.

Certainly, things are changing on the playing field on a second-by-second basis, especially when talking about technology and value systems. And maybe I’m a “mouldy fig” when it comes to things like being on time, getting a decent buck for good work, and showing up on the gig with a clean shirt and shined shoes.

But as mentioned, I am open to hearing and to considering all sides, and I again ask that you weigh in on this issue via our community pages, by clicking on the “comment” icon on the articles page, or by emailing me directly at

The truth is, my friends, I have but one concern:


Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Visitors to this space may be familiar with the pieces I’ve written about YouTube and its clones, and how the unauthorized and uncredited postings of jazz film clips have made life difficult for those of us who have produced and financed the actual, video source material.

In response to one of my rantings, I received an email from someone who couldn’t really understand my displeasure, saying, “Music should be free for everyone.”

I mailed him back and asked him what he did for a living.

He replied that he was a brick layer.

I answered him and said that I had always believed that “brick laying should be free for everyone.”

In line with this whole unpleasant business is a development that is not particularly new. Let’s just say it’s recently hit close to home in these quarters.

Names will not be mentioned, but you know who you are and you know who you’re not.

The issue? Playing jazz for free.

Playing jazz for free has its place(s), whether sitting in at a jam session, auditioning for a gig, recording a CD on spec, lending your talents to charity or shedding with friends in a garage.

It does not–and should not–apply to those individuals and “house rhythm sections” that stand as the back bone to the hundreds of weekly, jazz jam sessions that are taking place all over the country.

The proliferation of jams is great, great news. It’s how young players gain experience, and older players get their rocks off. And in the end, there is always the possibility of a steady gig coming out of it for one and all.

In this area, there is a tremendously talented instrumentalist, who, along with his rhythm section cohorts, is running a weekly jam session and leading the house band, for free.

Some might say, and some are saying just how marvelous this is. “Isn’t it wonderful that the ringleader and his rhythm section are doing this for free? How wonderful!”

The fact is, said ringleader and the boys are doing this week after week at several locations, for a company that not only runs a chain of venues–some serve booze and some don’t –but owns a profitable record company as well.

On top of all of it, the ringleader in question, as good as he is, has a stage presence that is one of utter disdain. He shows up late and makes it clear on the stand that he’s rather be anywhere else than where he is.

Perhaps you get what you pay for.

The bottom line is that he owners of the venue are making all kinds of money from this, the jammers are deservedly happy jamming, and I guess the guys that are doing this for nothing are saying, “Well…we just like to play.”

Why not do it at home?

It does not take a graduate degree to figure out that working for free sets a precedent and makes it difficult, if not almost impossible, for any decent player to get a decent wage from any club or restaurant owner. After all, they can just say, “Well…those guys are doing it for free. Why should we pay?

No further amplification is necessary.

The concert stage was Mr. Sinatra’s forum. This is mine, and I’m using it to say that this practice absolutely must stop, unless your goal is to fully ruin this business.

To the ringleader I can only say: Be a man. Stand up for jazz and for yourself. Insist on being paid, no matter what the amount. Or else, just stop playing.

I welcome and invite any comments to this piece.


Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Given that I am back in the Philadelphia/Greater Delaware Valley area after a long sojourn on Florida’s gorgeous southwest coast, networking—in order to re-establish myself in the musical community—has become a personal requirement.

And I’ve rarely enjoyed something more.

The Philadelphia area is rapidly becoming the jam session center of the Mid-Atlantic states, and although I’ve previously written about my opposition to all of the sessions seemingly being scheduled for Tuesday night, the truth is, the more jam sessions the merrier. Whatever the night.

There are few things more gratifying to me than to witness a young instrumentalist or singer –often jazz students–sitting in with some pros, and hearing the students’ musical evolution week after week. These youngsters, by and large, are learning their lessons very well.

What is not being taught, it seems to me, is something truly essential: professionalism on the bandstand. My contemporaries and I stand as the lucky ones. We were formally and informally mentored by the likes of Al Grey, Charlie Ventura, Bernard Peiffer, Krupa and Rich, Pepper Adams, and a bunch of big name name entertainers too numerous to mention.

They taught us the importance of knowing our keys and tempos, knowing how to dress, knowing how to talk to an audience and project, knowing how to keep an audience entertained and involved, knowing how to pace a set, deal with a club owner, and other “givens” like how a bandleader effectively leads, having your shoes shined, being on time and wearing a clean shirt.

Call me a mouldy fig or whatever else you want to call me, but those very, very necessary qualities seem to have all but vanished. And too often, two of those qualities that don’t seem to be there anymore are traits like courtesy and common sense.

Three recent jam session examples:
A singer is invited on stage to do a couple of numbers. Said singer has no idea what he wants to sing, what his key is or what the tempo should be. After a good, 10-minute consultation with every player on stage but the drummer, he finally goes into a tune, after losing most of the audience. This behavior was repeated for two more songs. In my estimation, not only was the drummer shown little respect, but the audience was disrespected as well. In this instance, I became so frustrated; I told the singer that if he wanted to talk, he should go see a priest.

Instance two: Another singer, not without talent, simply takes to the stage, and begins singing, without telling anyone the key, the tempo or the song’s title. It is up to us lackeys to find our way, with the result often being either a train wreck or ending up in the key of D. Or both.

Instance three: A pianist, clearly of the amateur variety, is asked to sit in at a jam session with some seasoned pros. First, he hands out charts to all on stage—a jam session no-no for a number of reasons—then, without counting off a tempo or asking the drummer to do same, simply starts playing, presuming that everyone else on the stand will just fall in perfectly. Needless to say, the drummer isn’t even told the song title. Deservedly, everything fell apart.

Instance three, and you can term this “off the bandstand professionalism,” and I will not name names: A well-known, world-class pianist from a foreign country is “sponsored” by a small-time, U.S. entrepreneur who brings said artist to the U.S. for the first time. As the pianist’s first stop after deplaning from his European home, the “sponsor” decides that the pianist’s United States debut will be at a club where a jam session is held weekly. On Tuesdays, of course. Bear in mind that the visitor to these shores is a world-class, jazz pianist. The sponsor conveniently ignores or forgets that the club’s piano is in terrible shape, and ultimately does nothing to improve the quality of the instrument. Said pianist, thankfully, made no, on-stage comment that the piano was not in great condition and that something should been done about it. That’s because, unlike his “sponsor,” the pianist was a pro.

My good and long-time colleague, bassist Bruce Kaminsky, has done what he could over the years to teach what I’ll call “Professionalism 101” at several area colleges. But we need much, much more of this type of teaching to get the point across.

In the end, professionalism on or off the bandstand isn’t brain surgery. Much of it is common sense.


Friday, April 13th, 2012

It wasn’t too long ago–April 27, 2010, to be exact– that Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, among the premier jazz clubs in Philadelphia and in the nation, closed for business after almost 24 years of operation.

What a place it was, and seemingly every local and national player–including such regulars as Shirley Scott, Butch Ballard and Mickey Roker–played at the joint. The Sunday afternoon jam session, under the direction of trumpeter Roger Prieto, was justly legendary.

Say what you want about Peter Souders–who owned, booked and blew tenor sax at the place until new owners took over just four years before the place closed, he kept it going for a long time, and it wasn’t always easy.

Orlieb’s, now to be called “Ortlieb’s Lounge” will be reopening again in Philadelphia shortly, though without much of the jazz that put it on the map. The new owners, “Four Corners Management,” Six nights of the week, Ortlieb’s patrons can see and hear some really innovative entertainment: how about an open mike night, open mike comedy night and a couple of DJs? Wow! I’m getting my tickets now.

As a bow toward tradition, the new space will have a jazz jam under the aegis of drummer Roker and Souders. Unfortunately, the choice of Tuesday was and is an unfortunate and cruel one, and I won’t say who I suspect is at fault.

The Ortlieb’s jazz jam is directly scheduled against Philadelphia’s long-running–how about over 20 years?–jazz session at Center City’s 23rd Street Cafe’. Why would another club want to try to cut in, compete with and attempt to diminish the audience size of a certifiable instituion? Cruelty, perhaps?

Does anyone out there–especially Souders, who knows better–realize that the jazz community is small enough as it is, and that attempting to make the community of audiences and players even small than it already is makes no sense.

Come on, Pete. You’ve got six other days of the week to do this. Shame on you, man.